Craig Easton’s Fisherwomen

Born in Edinburgh, Craig Easton is a photographer whose work is deeply rooted in the documentary tradition. His photography often uses a mix of intimate portraiture and large format landscape to explore social histories and identity. His early career was defined by his work for the groundbreaking Independent newspaper in London and he has since gone on to win numerous international awards for both his commissioned work and personal projects.

This week, Craig launches the first exhibition of images from his Fisherwomen series in Montrose tomorrow, a project looking at the working lives of women who work onshore in the fishing industry along the east coasts of Scotland and England. As the show opened in Angus, Craig kindly agreed to share some insights into his photography.

Where did you get the inspiration or idea from to photograph the fisherwomen?

Initially, from the paintings of Winslow Homer and John McGhie and the old sepia tinted photographs of the ‘herring lassies’ on bustling quaysides. I’d read a lot about the the herring trade, how the fleet followed the annual migration of the shoals from Shetland to Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. And I’d read about how the fisherwomen used to mirror the fishermen’s annual journey travelling on land from port to port to gut and pack the herring into barrels in open air curing yards and quaysides. It felt to me that these women had been rightly celebrated for their critical role in fishing in days gone by, but their contribution was now mostly unseen – working as they were behind closed doors in large fish processing factories, smokehouses and small family firms right up and down the east coast. Fishing has always attracted photographers and artists, but most often the focus has been on the fisher ‘men’ and not the fisher ‘women’. I wanted to address that and make pictures that both documented and celebrated the women’s role in the same way as the painters had done in the late 1800s.

Could you tell us a bit about how the project developed, where were the locations you worked in and how long it all took?

I began the work in 2013 in Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Aberdeen. I’ve worked in and around fishing communities all my career and extensively in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. I’d read Neil Gunn Silver Darlings and I knew the story of the herring girls and fisherwomen – how they used to wade through the freezing waves to carry their menfolk out to the boats to ensure they went to sea in dry clothing. How they baited the lines, mended the nets, gutted and packed the fish and essentially held the communities together whilst the men were at sea. I wanted to find today’s fisherwomen and so I started knocking on doors and making portraits in the processing houses in Aberdeenshire. You can imagine I got some odd looks and comments as I set up a backdrop and a large tripod in the middle of a working fish factory. Early on I decided to use the route of the traditional herring trade as a vehicle to explore the subject and to tie in the experience of the contemporary workers to the celebrated fisherwomen of the past. I continued to make portraits in various places on the east coast off and on over the next few years, until in 2017 when I decided to really concentrate on bringing it all together as a coherent project. I shot more pictures in Angus and Fife and then went up to Orkney and Shetland where the traditional herring season began in early summer each year. Speaking to the gutters, filleters and packers today, I realised they performed essentially the same role as their predecessors, but didn’t have the same connection from one fishing port to the next: the people in Shetland no longer travelled each season to Fraserburgh or Lowestoft and so the people of the southern ports didn’t have the same connection to the north. I wanted to remake that connection by shooting landscapes and seascapes along the length of the original route. The final piece in the jigsaw was to photograph and interview fisherwomen who had worked ‘at the gutting’ back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s – women who still remember the journey, still recalled the cacophony of the quaysides and could help make the connection to my contemporary portraits.

Did you discover anything unexpected, or was the project much as you had envisaged from the outset.

I’m not sure that I discovered anything ‘unexpected’ – I’d done a lot of research and was familiar with the story and the history. I discovered what I had hoped I would  find though and that was a fabulous camaraderie in the modern factory settings that can’t be that much different to the comradeship and fellowship of the herring girls when they stayed together in temporary ‘gutters huts’ or cheap lodgings as young women. There is still an enormous pride in their trade, it is still extremely skilled, arduous work and they are still the backbone of many fishing communities.

You have used a mix of archive material and your own work in the exhibition. Why?

To make the connection, to show how the modern fish workers are part of a long and important tradition, to tie the contemporary experience closely to the heritage. And one day, if this isn’t too bold, to maybe hang my pictures next to Homer’s, McGhie’s and the Jobling’s in a homage to the women of the fishing communities past and present. In some senses I see myself as an historian as much as a documentary photographer – it’s about recording social history, to preserve it for future generations. If those paintings hadn’t been made and those old black and white photographs of the herring girls hadn’t been taken, then we wouldn’t have the social history and we’d be all the poorer for it. It’s difficult sometimes to notice what’s important when our own experience is, by definition, ordinary and familiar to us, but I do think it’s important to see today in the context of history and it is as much my job to record this era as it was the artists of the past to record theirs. I don’t want it to sound grandiose, but I know that my life has been richly enhanced by photographs, paintings, literature, music etc etc from the past and so I feel it’s my responsibility to record what I see for future generations too.

How does this project fit into your other work?

Ah, good question. In the social history context mentioned above, it’s all interconnected I suppose.

More and more, recently, I’ve been recording audio or taking written testimony to work alongside the pictures, whether that is working with teenagers exploring how their dreams, hopes and ambitions are influenced by social background or location etc, as I did with the group project I’m leading called Sixteen, or whether it’s listening to the memories of fisherwomen and making connections between different generations, I feel that it is all about storytelling, listening and learning about real lives. The more we share and communicate with one another, the more we understand each other and it feels to me like that is more important now than ever. Maybe taking some pictures, talking to people and helping to tell their stories can play some small part in that.

A small selection of the work will be shown at Montrose Museum and Art Gallery from 19th April – 1st June, 2019, with a preview on the opening night. Craig will be expanding the work into the English fishing ports in the coming months and a wider show will happen at the Hull Maritime Museum in August, then aspects of it will travel to other galleries and museums along the route.

From ‘Fisherwomen’ by Craig Easton. Copyright photograph 2019, all rights reserved.

From ‘Fisherwomen’ by Craig Easton. Copyright photograph 2019, all rights reserved.

From ‘Fisherwomen’ by Craig Easton. Copyright photograph 2019, all rights reserved.

From ‘Fisherwomen’ by Craig Easton. Copyright photograph 2019, all rights reserved.

From ‘Fisherwomen’ by Craig Easton. Copyright photograph 2019, all rights reserved.

 

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Sophie Gerrard featured in ‘209 Women’ and ‘Sixteen’

There are less than a week to catch 2 exhibitions featuring work by Sophie Gerrard this month. ‘209 Women’ at the Open Eye Liverpool and ‘Sixteen’ at Format Festival in Derby. Both exhibitions finish on the 14th April 2019. If you are in Liverpool or Derby do try and see them.

 

Deidre Brock MP for Edinburgh North & Leith in her constituency at her surgery, Carlton Hill and Leith Walk, Edinburgh, September 2018. All images © Sophie Gerrard 2018 All rights reserved.

209 Women

Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool

209 Women marks 100 years since the first general election in which some women could vote. It seeks to champion the visibility of women: particularly in politics, where decisions are made that affect people of all genders. It features new portraits of the UK’s women MPs, shot entirely by photographers that identify as women. 

It launched on 14 December at the Houses of Parliament, 100 years to the day that the first women walked into polling stations to cast their ballots. Now, it opens in Liverpool with the full set being shown for the first time — including Sinn Féin MPs who abstained from showing their images in the Houses of Parliament.

It’s an opportunity to reflect on how much progress has been made towards gender parity, whilst also highlighting how much more needs to be done, across all spheres of society, each and every day. 

Photography is a tremendously powerful medium of communication, yet all too often we see images in which women have had their agency denied. All the women in this project – both MPs and photographers – worked together to create images that communicated their identities on their terms: their own sense of justice, their own vision for a better world.

The ‘209 Women’ exhibition, featuring Sophie Gerrard’s portrait of Deidre Brock MP, install shot at the Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool. Image © ‘Open Eye Gallery, Tabitha Jussa, 2019’. 

 

I was delighted to be invited to be part of this ambitious and important group project. Deidre Brock MP is an Australian-born Scottish National Party politician. She was first elected as the Member of Parliament for Edinburgh North and Leith in May 2015 — the first SNP representative to hold the seat at either a Westminster or Scottish Parliament level.

Most of my work focuses on contemporary land use and environmental politics and I frequently explore this subject through the eyes of women. So it was a real pleasure to meet and photograph Deidre Brock for this important project. Deidre is a politician I admire in her role as SNP Spokesperson for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and her constituency is one I used to live in.

Huge thanks and congratulations to the great minds and curators behind this initiative Tracy Marshall, Hilary Wood, Cheryl Newman & Lisa Tse

For more info and to take a look through all the fantastic portraits in the 209 Women project please visit the website at www.209women.co.uk , and read about the photographers’ experiences of photographing their chosen MP.

Read about 209 Women in The Guardian, the BBC and hear from some of the MPs including Deidre Brock an article in the Sunday Post 

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/gallery/2018/dec/14/209-female-mps-by-209-female-photographers-in-pictures  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-46553515  https://www.sundaypost.com/fp/women-about-the-house-new-photography-exhibition-unveils-portraits-of-the-uks-209-female-mps/

 

 

Sixteen

FORMAT International Photography Festival, Derby

 

In a major new touring exhibition leading contemporary photographers join forces to present the multimedia project Sixteen, exploring the dreams, hopes and fears of sixteen-year olds across the UK.

What’s it like to be sixteen years old now? This is the central thread running through multimedia project Sixteen.

Kirsty Noble, 16, Edinburgh. September 2018 Kirsty does a paper round everyday before school – she’d like to be a paramedic. Her granny is the only person she knows who reads a newspaper, all of her friends and classmates read their news online. Image © Sophie Gerrard 2018 All rights reserved.

 

Elsa Galbraith. 16, lives in Braes on the Isle of Skye. She attends school on the island and goes wild swimming in the sea in the mornings. Braes, Isle of Skye, August 2018. Image © Sophie Gerrard 2018 All rights reserved.

Photographer Craig Easton conceived this ambitious project following his engagement with sixteen-year olds at the time of the Scottish Referendum. It was the first, and as yet only, time that these young people were given the vote in the UK. Building on the success of that work he invited 16 of the UK’s foremost documentary portrait photographers to collaborate with young people across the country to make a visual vox pop on what it means to be sixteen now.

Sixteen is an age of transition, of developmental, and of social change. At this time of increasing national and international anxiety, these young people are shifting from adolescence to become the adults who will live in a politically reshaped country, divorced from the Europe Union.

Robbie Strathdee, 16, lives in Leeds. He’s photographed here working as a conservation volunteer in the Flow Country, in the NE of Scotland. “In 10 years time I’d like to feel as if I was part of a movement towards a more sustainable future for my whole generation, I think it would be really cool to be part of a new era of the way humans interact with the world around us.” Image © Sophie Gerrard 2018 All rights reserved.

I began photographing sixteen year olds around the time of the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, Craig also began his project at that time, at a time when 16 year olds could vote in a major political decision, it was a unique time, and hearing the voices of those young voters was inspiring. Many were well informed, opinionated and responsible. Craig then broadened out his project to include 16 photographers and the whole of the UK ands also included curator Anne Braybon and producer Liz Wewiora. I was proud to be invited to join such a talented group of photographers. The resulting exhibitions in Salford, Manchester and Derby highlight just how important it is to listen to young people. At a time of uncertainty and fear, these young voices offer hope, insight, maturity and positivity. It’s been an inspiration to be involved.

 

 

 

Project Sixteen at Format 19 International Photography Festival, Derby, March 2019.

Photographers: Jillian Edelstein, Kalpesh Lathigra, Lottie Davies, Simon Roberts, Sophie Gerrard, Stuart Freedman, Kate Peters, Roy Mehta, Abbie Trayler-Smith, Antonio Olmos, Linda Brownlee, Christopher Nunn, Michelle Sank, Ronan McKenzie, Kate Kirkwood and Simon Wheatley.

Read more about Project Sixteen in The Guardian and the BJP and see fantastic portraits by all the photographers involved. You can also watch a excellent film of the project made by Robert Brady here

     
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